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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

Month

July 2014

Okra

Okra Blossom
An Okra Blossom, by Ramon F Velasquez

Okra is a delicious little plant. It’s tiny, thumb sized, in fact. They look like little people wearing little green hats and they’re fuzzy all over. When you cut open an okra fruit it is sticky and sappy on the inside. Boil it slightly and the outer skin softens just enough that when you bite down on one it makes a pleasant “pakki!” feeling against your teeth. The fuzzy outside feels rough on your tongue, like sandpaper that melts in your mouth.

Inside there are little round seeds. Coated in the sticky sap of the fruit, they pop into your mouth as you bite down. Smooth and silky they contrast against the roughness of the outer skin.

Vendakka.jpg
Okra fruit by Riyaz Ahamed

Okra is a delicious little plant. The chance to eat a fresh bite of okra fills me with energy and excitement. Even my eyes open a little wider at the thought.

Okra. A delicious little plant.

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So Many Tears

These days I cry all the time. Yesterday I was telling a friend that I like to just sit and watch my ferrets eat. Just remembering the contented sounds of munching and crunching, and imagining my girl’s face as she squints her eyes to chew, with little crumbs spilling out of her mouth, made me well up. Today I listened to a sermon by my friend Rev Bev and she likened the need that we have to play and to experience pleasure to the call of the wild geese. Lying on my living room floor, looking out the window at a clear morning sky, I could see the geese and hear their call and they were calling me to get up and to go outside into the wild where I can be free and find life. I’m streaming now even as I type.

Why do the tears come so readily these days? I feel as if they’re always there just under the surface waiting to gush out at any moment. When I cry my feeling is always the same. There is a world. There is life. It’s so close I can feel it in my skin. My stomach screams and my chest fortifies itself to keep the scream inside me for fear it rips the skin of my bones on its way out. When I cry, it’s always because the seal that keeps me in and the world out is growing thinner and tiny holes are melting their way through to the outside. I cry because I desperately want to leave this prison that I have grown up in but I can’t find the knob on the door. Of course the reason that I can’t find the knob is because I’m not ready to. I’m afraid to open the door to freedom because I’m afraid it might kill me.

My words are metaphoric, but in fact they are also written with deadly sincerity. The trap that binds me is the invisible and ubiquitous blind of civilization. It binds me with rules of success, rules of propriety, rules of separation, hard work and lovelessness. To break free of these binds would be to rid one’s self of the need to follow the rules. Some of these rules are enforced with violence. If I love the wrong person I may be incarcerated, the invisible bounds of civilization replaced with the very solid bounds of a cell. If I work towards the wrong cause, not being successful enough by the measure of money, then everything I own can be taken away from me by force. In a world where even the sky and the water that falls from it are owned by someone, to lose everything one owns is to be truly trapped. It could kill me to be separated from nature. I could suffocate from concrete.

I am trapped between two worlds. My heart fully inhabits a world of abundance, of the awesome power of thunderstorms and howling wolves, of the thrill of sex so deep our bodies melt into the universe, mix, and return to us with little concern for whether all the bits go back to their original owners, of the peaceful crunching of tiny jaws on tiny kibbles… My heart has left my mind behind to live in this beautiful world and my mind reels from the pain of separation. My mind resides in the plane of utility bills and income tax, resumes, employment and visa applications. My mind still believes that it has to do something, but without my heart it can only answer the how, not the what.

I cry because in these tiny moments my eyes suddenly see clearly and my mind understands that the world it lives in is not the world of my heart. It sees where it needs to go and the contrast between the piercing beauty of that bright and clear vision and the faded drudgery of the world it has grown accustomed to stings. In these moments I’m torn in a different direction. The longing is so sincere and only in these moments do I understand it well enough to rejoice in the vision and mourn its absence from my daily life. I cry from the pain, but it also purifies me. Each time the tears come I feel my eyes see a little more clearly, my heart speaks a little more loudly and my mind seems to find just a little more direction. Perhaps one day the call will be too strong to ignore. Perhaps the fear of every threat that civilization can throw at me will suddenly lose its power to move me. Perhaps on this day the geese will fly overhead and I’ll hear them and finally step outside into the sun to follow them over the horizon.

Afraid it Will Never End

I write a lot on this blog about theory. A lot of time I try to see the beautiful and the human behind all the things that cause misery in the world. Today I want to write about something different. Today I want to put it out for those who will read that there is something deeply wrong with the world we live in. I feel it every day. Some days it’s not as strong as others, but it’s always there, this insuppressible, visceral sense of wrongness in the world, and I’m afraid it will never end.

Many people, many organizations, would have you believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Technology is a constant improvement on our lives, making possible the impossible every single day. Labor laws and civil rights constantly push forward the boundary of protectionism guaranteeing we are not taken advantage of by our employers, bringing us happier, healthier more satisfying work lives. Finally, persistent economic growth has brought unprecedented wealth to even the poorest in our society, making us richer today than the historic kings of France. On a deep and personal level I know this to be a falsehood.

Did you know that once upon a time people did not work? Once, long ago, people rose with the sun and ate the grasses and roots in the ground, or the fruit off of trees so close they wouldn’t even have to leave sight of their family to gather them. In this world now galaxies away, people loved without boundary because they didn’t understand the concept of ownership — there were so many people to love, so much food to eat, so much land to explore that to say “this is mine” would have been as silly a concept as trying to claim particular molecules of water in a common swimming pool.

When I was in high school I attended a summer camp by the Institute for Humane Studies. It was a free camp where we played leadership games and studied basic concepts of economics. It was at this camp that I first met the First Fundamental Welfare Theorem of Economics, more commonly known as the Invisible Hand of the Market. When humans came together, some with needs and some with surplus, without any form of coordination beyond the ability to agree on prices, they would coordinate their wants and their surpluses so efficiently as to improve the circumstances of all. It was like magic. A Christian at the time, I believed in the fundamental evil of man, so to see that uncoordinated and unfettered selfishness could lead to the betterment of all was proof to me that a loving god must have written the laws. It was then that I decided I will get a PhD in economics.

Over the years as my understanding grew, I changed as a person. Soon after graduating high school I began college at an Ivy League institution. There I swore to myself that I would not work a moment longer than the bare minimum necessary to pass my classes. I would spend the rest of my time in play. The constant game of competing against my peers, always trying to prove myself with test scores and awards, always worrying what the next year would be like, would stop with college. How much farther could I go, after all? Ivy League. Top in the nation. Surely a degree from this university even without a shining transcript would land me a job more secure, better paid and more interesting than any I could get from a lesser institution. What was the point is trying more than necessary? Unfortunately I could not keep my promise to myself. The people around me were so smart and the professors so cold that I constantly feared that anything less than my best would fail me by no fault but my own. Indeed I had no story to tell me how to not do my best.

Economics promised me that by doing my best now, I could cash in my hard work for an easier life later. I could seek out a job below the level of my credentials and then demand better benefits, more vacation, higher pay or whatever, just for being extra qualified. In economics, money is the great liquifier and suffering today can always be translated into money tomorrow. Leisure foregone becomes wages earned becomes consumption enjoyed becomes utility increased. It all seemed so perfect and so plausible, but as I grew I began to see how terribly wrong it was.

When have you ever felt the possibility to work less? Do any of you know even one person whose boss tells them “Don’t worry about finishing that project tonight. So we miss the deadline? No biggie. No one is going to die…”? Have you ever felt like it was possible to ask for vacation just because you felt like it? Or to take a sick day because your heart hurts? Do you think it is actually possible to decide the length of your commute or the hours in your standard work week? We don’t see the opportunities available to us even though economic theory says we do. This was the first blow to my faith in that invisible hand.

Later I learned about “externalities.” Externalities are things that happen to people as a result of someone else’s decisions. The documentary The Corporation gives a lovely explanation. In a clip from an old black and white, a woman throws a pie at a man she is angry with and he ducks. The pie lands squarely in the face of a customer sipping a beverage at the counter behind. Externalities are one of the many realities that shred the beautiful tapestry of ubiquitous market goodness because since the person in control of the externality is not the one who bears the effects of it, it never gets properly paid for. Think pollution. Think rainforest destruction and poaching. We all suffer the loss, but who pays for it? The cars and the factories that produce the pollution most certainly do not.

In addition to externalities there are rents. Rents are the benefits that someone gets from owning something. Your landlord rents you your apartment, and that’s all well and good, but Disney rents Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse isn’t a thing, but an idea. You can’t consume Mickey Mouse, but as an idea you can use it to communicate, create a sense of community with others who derive pleasure from Mickey Mouse, you can make art with Mickey Mouse. Disney is a bloated cancerous entity that once brought joy and happiness to people with its illustrations but seeing that a profit could be made by continuously owning them has caused thousands upon thousands of people heartache in order to protect its rents. Rent seeking behavior is the source of ever more economic waste as companies seek to patent everything, right down to Amazon patenting the right to photograph stuff against a white background. Rent causes problems as companies in power leverage that power to push others out of the market and profits made from rents are pure redistributions from the weaker to the stronger — there is no growth, no production, no wealth generated with rent.

Economists are also devout worshipers of the concept of incentivization. Everything in the economic world boils down to what makes people do stuff. Fading welfare payments incentivize the despondent to employ themselves. Corporate bonuses incentivize management to maximize the pofitability of the firms they manage. But do you know what else incentivizes the despondent to employ themselves? Pride in being an active contributing member of their community. And how much happier a world it would be where people work because it brings them and the others around them joy and not because there is an ever tightening noose of poverty strung around their necks! Economists have forgotten how to see the big picture. It doesn’t just matter what people do, it matters why they do it. Incentivization is management through fear instead of through love. Even Machiavelli knew that love was the better way.

Finally, I learned about profits. This was the hardest lesson for me to learn and I learned it last. In economics a firm is a profit generating atomaton. It exists to make profits. Its sole purpose is the pursuit of profits. It has no morals, no allegiance to flag, country or religion (except in the United States apparently they have religion, for whatever that means), the firm worships the bottom line. Everything in economics has a value which can be translated into a price which can be added to the bottom line. People have a value which can be added or subtracted from the bottom line. Destruction of indigenous culture, pillaging of natural and nonrenewable resources, even mass murder have all been translated into a line item in the profit calculations of some firm. I used to believe that all we needed to do was to assign the property rights to these items in order for a firm to properly take them into consideration, like with externalities, but how do you assign a price to the extermination of the Jews, homosexuals and any one else not Arian enough in Nazi Germany? I don’t know, but IBM seemed to find a way. Profit as the ultimate measure of value can never encompass all that there is to being human or to finding happiness.

When I was younger and still in school I thought school was the greatest bind on my personal freedom imaginable. Now with my PhD in hand I see the burden only increased after graduation. This economic system that the entire world has embraced leaves no room for creativity, no room for adventure, no room for humanity. It is far from the best of all possible worlds. In fact, it is hard for me to imagine a worse world. Women are still being burned alive for refusing sex with men. Children are being beaten by their own parents, neglected and left to starve. Young people whose lives should stretch out in front of them as a vast horizon of possible crack under the unbearable burden of success in an uncaring, unending, never sleeping, never slowing down world of consumption, numbers, and status. Sometimes they go down quietly by themselves. Sometimes they take out dozens of innocents with them.

You would think with my degree and my profession that I would have the security, the income, and the personal freedom that indicate the highest level of success in this world. You would think if anyone had a chance at happiness that person would be standing exactly where I am now. But there is a wrongness to my life, a profound and pervasive wrongness always present in the back of my consciousness. It tells me that my job is meaningless, that my money is not security, that the world will go on perfectly well without me. It tells me that we are not meant to live our lives with our hearts perpetually bound in the dark recesses of the Consumption Machine. It tells me that there is more than all this. And yet, I am afraid that there is no end. There is no sanctuary for me where I can reject the machine. There is no home for me to go to where I know my needs will be met. There is no net to catch me if I step out of the confines of my prescribed life and into the unknown.

Does my struggle speak to you? Do you, too, feel the profound wrongness in the world we live in? I would like to be not alone in this.

Born Into A Dying World

We were all born into a dying world. One of my first memories of an actual conversation with my mother was about the foxes. In my neighborhood in a Miami suburb where I grew up, occasionally at night we would catch a glimpse of something dark and swift in the night. A shadow, barely larger than a cat, would dart from shrub to shrub across the manicured lawns of the neighborhood. If you startled it on an evening walk, the shadow would turn to you, eyes glowing like gems before darting off into the darkness.

These shadows were the grey foxes native to Miami. “Look! A fox!” My mom would whisper. Desperately I would search, but as a child I was often too slow to pick their silhouettes out from the backdrop of night. I was desperate to see this magical creature, the fox. And while I did on occasion catch sight of them, as I grew older they became noticeably more rare. “The foxes are going away,” she told me. “People don’t like them and they are driving them out.”

My first memory of a conversation with my mother was to learn that magic was being driven out of the world. What a sad place to be born into.

Protect the Children!

My letter to the Manassas Police Department as they try to protect a child from being used to make child porn by MAKING MORE CHILD PORN. It’s all sick.

Continue reading “Protect the Children!”

Are We Beyond Salvation?

Maybe it’s the fact that in today’s world media comments on media in an endless incestual spiral of ever more flamboyantly inflamed emotions, or maybe there is something real going on, but it seems to me that every time I read about the state of America today someone bemoans the rise in sexual discrimination, increasing barriers to sexual and reproductive health for women, increasing nit-picking of organized religions, growing income inequality, growing national debt, ever more rapidly deteriorating global ecosystem…

I often wonder to myself, is the world itself already plunging in a deadly headspin towards unsalvageable disaster? Or is it just the language of the social viral that makes everything seem this way? When organizations like the ACLU start using this kind of language, I tend to lean in the direction of thinking that perhaps it really is true.

It’s been years that I have longed for the failure of my country. Am I unpatriotic? Perhaps. This year I celebrated Independence Day abroad. I worked that day. My acknowledgment of my country’s grand achievement manifest itself in a brief comment I made to a co worker: every year on July Fourth I celebrate the idea that our country was supposed to represent. I celebrate it and I mourn its passing. America is no more the bastion of Freedom and Human Integrity that it once strove to become than the bloated and twisted cells that form a malignant tumor are the heart, the lung, the stomach that they breed on.

Once Upon A Leader

Once upon a time I was appointed as leader of a group. We were in the wilderness and there were many children gathered together at a small clearing. I had been out exploring the nearby woods while the children rested, played and ate their lunch. When I came back to the group they were cold and the day was drawing to a close.

The other adults in the group looked to me for help. Having explored the woods, they needed me to guide the children back to the parking lot. The adults would be busy at another task and so I would have to do this alone.

For a moment after my appointment, I stood there with the eyes of every one upon me. I was afraid because I did not know the woods very well and I often get lost even in my own neighborhood back home. I don’t have any children of my own and so children are somewhat of a foreign creature to me. And yet, they all looked to me for protection, their eyes full of complete trust. The adults held more knowing of the danger, but they too believed completely in my ability to guide the children back to safety. Full of fear and feeling the increasingly heavy air of urgency around me I straightened my shoulders and accepted the position. The sun was already below the trees.

To the children, I smiled and gave them instructions with complete confidence. When they asked me questions, I answered. When they said, “I am afraid and don’t know what to do” I told them. I assured them that they would come to no harm as we climbed through the brush, even though there was no path through the trees and only my poor and nervous memory to guide us.

Eventually we did make it back to the cars and to civilization. The children were loaded into the passenger seats and their packs tossed into the trunk. The other adults had returned to the parking lot by this time and we all waved as the children were taken back to their lives. If they had any doubt in my ability to guide these children safely through the barely known, they did not show it. Neither did I vent my uncertainties to them. In silent communication we all turned then and dispersed back to our own realities.

My appointment to leadership here is a dream, though every feeling I experienced during my waking moments. I do not think of myself as a leader. I do not think of myself as particularly capable. Often I am only barely a few paces ahead of those who would put their trust completely in my hands. If I have anything to offer to those who would follow me, it is perhaps nothing more than my willingness to risk my life and my property for the sake of adventure, and my readiness to step up when the group needs me. I am a nervous being, really, and yet others look to me and see capability. People talk of natural leaders and they might say I am one. However I cannot lead those who would not follow me. And truly, it is in being bestowed with the honor and responsibility of leadership that I am able to accomplish things that, alone, are more than I can imagine.

A More Beautiful World

How much of the ugly does it take to substitute for a lack of the beautiful? How many adventure films does it take to compensate for a lack of adventure? How many superhero movies must one watch, to compensate for the atrophied expression of one’s greatness? How much pornography to meet the need for intimacy? How much entertainment to substitute for missing play? It takes an infinite amount. That’s good news for economic growth, but bad news for the planet. Fortunately, our planet isn’t allowing much more of it, nor is our ravaged social fabric. We are almost through with the age of artificial scarcity, if only we can release the habits that hold us there.

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

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